Obey God rather than men
“Obedience to God comes before obedience to men” replied Peter in today’s First Reading (Acts 5:27-41) when the high priest had tried to prevent the Apostles preaching the Gospel. The Apostles, having seen the risen Christ, and also having been filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, went out into the streets of Jerusalem, the very place where Our Lord had been put to death and preached His Resurrection. Peter had already been arrested and thrown into gaol for this, and he knew that he may suffer a worse fate if he persisted in preaching Christ. But having seen the risen Christ he was now fearless and nothing would deter him. But after reaffirming the truth of the Gospel they had been preaching, the Apostles left the Sanhedrin “glad to have had the honour of suffering for the sake of the name”. The Church having been born at Pentecost, would now continue in her mission to bring the unadulterated Truth to her members till the end of the world, no matter who tried to prevent it.
While it is true that the Will of God and the will of man will not always conflict, sometimes they do and then we have to choose between them. In such a scenario there are only two options – God or not God. If we choose God, we will get two things: persecution and suffering in this life, but eternal happiness in the next. This is why the Apostles were “glad to have had the honour of suffering for the sake of the name”. Suffering for Christ is a badge of honour. But if we reject the Will of God we risk Heaven and our eternal salvation.
Standing up for the Truth will almost always bring hardship but it’s our duty to defend Christ. We may be intimidated by threats or prejudice, anti-Catholic laws may be passed. We may be mocked, ridiculed and ostracised and perhaps lose our employment. We might even be imprisoned. So we need to have the boldness of the Apostles. After all, Our Lord told us we must preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth until the end of time (Matthew 28:19-20). The message is very clear: Repent and reform your lives and be baptised into the Church founded by Christ if you want to be saved. That’s the basic message which doesn’t sit well with the world today.
There have been many witnesses to this truth throughout the history of the Church. St Thomas More (1478-1535) was Chancellor of England and a friend of King Henry VIII. When the Church and the Pope wouldn’t give in to Henry’s marital demands, Henry declared himself the head of the Church in England, usurping the authority of the Pope, and granted himself the desired annulment of marriage, thus breaking with Rome. Almost all of England’s bishops supported the king, but St Thomas More refused to go along with it. His family were threatened and tortured but he would not betray Christ’s Church, and so he was executed. Thomas said, “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first”.
Similarly, many in the Church today fear the opinions of men more than God. Not enough bishops speak out and so the Church is being humiliated by relativism, and our once Christian society is being completely eroded. But the Church is divine and belongs to Christ. In these trials where many of the shepherds have become ravening wolves, we must remain faithful by our prayers and penances, by the frequent reception of the Sacraments, especially Penance and Holy Communion and by our good works. We must also really study our Faith. In this way we will contribute to the renewal of Holy Mother Church. May She once again become radiant in all her beauty for the whole world to see.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC